Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
The moonlight was like water, and the wind soughed.
Xiahou Lian was holding a saber and standing still. Falling leaves swirled as they fluttered before his eyes, and in the rustling sounds, his robes swished.
In an instant, the light of his saber suddenly gleamed.
Xiahou Lian pulled the saber out of its scabbard. The glittering light of the saber was like river waves under the moon, vast and undulating, layers upon layers swaying out one after another. He stepped on the moonlight, and the point of his saber sliced out an exquisite and beautiful arc. His clear eyes were fixated on the one point at the tip of the saber, and the sounds of the wind in the entire courtyard seemed to leave him and go far away. His saber skills were clean and neat, not sloppy at all, like the cool breeze and bright moon in a pine forest. When he slashed the saber horizontally, the wind of the saber swept across the courtyard, like the surging soughing of the wind in pines.
After several moves, Xiahou Lian put the saber back into its scabbard and raised a brow, smiling at Shen Jue who was next to him. “You saw that clearly, right?”
Shen Jue recalled Xiahou Lian’s movements from just then, weighed the wooden saber in his hand, and frowned, not responding.
“Our Garan’s saber techniques aren’t like others’ saber techniques that are particular about a good physique, establishing friendships through competition, and so on. Garan saber techniques are skills to kill, and taking a saber out must lead to drinking blood. There’s not a single flourish that’s for dazzling, and they specially go on a vicious and cunning way. Whatever way is quick, accurate, and ruthless is the way to go.” Xiahou Lian held his saber and said, “You don’t have to practice to be that perfect, since it’s enough if you can take care of those who don’t have eyes.”
Shen Jue thought for a while and said, “Just now, the saber skills you demonstrated were not really the same as what you said.”
Shen Jue glanced at Xiahou Lian, lifted his wooden saber, and walked to the center. He lowered his body slightly and made a starting pose. Xiahou Lian retreated against the wall, watching him unhurriedly. Next to him, an osmanthus cake was handed to him from somewhere. Xiahou Lian took it subconsciously, came to his senses, and looked to the side in shock. It turned out that Consort Gao was sitting on a rock and eating with relish.
“Sh!” Consort Gao put her finger on her lips. “Look at the saber.”
Shen Jue moved.
It was clearly a crude wooden saber, yet it was like an edgeless sharp blade. The wind of his saber was incomparably swift and fierce, bone-chillingly icy, and it was as if wherever it went, a thin layer of sorrowful frost congealed. The momentum of the wind grew bigger, and falling leaves filled the sky and covered the ground. Shen Jue was just about to make the final vertical chop when Consort Gao suddenly pushed Xiahou Lian, sending Xiahou Lian in front of Shen Jue’s saber.
Xiahou Lian was horrified. The wind of Shen Jue’s saber instantly enveloped his entire body, and he could practically smell the bloodiness at the point of his saber.
Shen Jue’s saber clearly stagnated, and Xiahou Lian seized the opportunity to lean to the side and dodge, the blade close to the corner of his clothes as it sliced past. Shen Jue coldly and quietly glanced at Consort Gao. The latter was still clapping her hands and yelling, “Fun! Fun! The two of you, hurry up and fight!”
Xiahou Lian was just about to rebuke her when Shen Jue’s blade turned and actually came directly toward Xiahou Lian’s face.
He had only learned five moves, and at this moment he was using the third form of Garan’s saber techniques——Swallow Slant.
This brat, he had just learned the saber and he wanted to battle with him? Xiahou Lian bent backward and dodged Swallow Slant, and then did a backflip to dodge another move. Shen Jue had just learned the saber, so the difference in their strengths was too big. Xiahou Lian didn’t make a move and attack, he only dodged left and right. However, what surprised him was that Shen Jue was only using five moves, yet he could actually connect them into a complete offensive routine. After several minutes, although Xiahou Lian could easily dodge every time, the momentum of Shen Jue’s saber was actually continuous and without pause at all.
But he had only learned five moves!
Both of them were tired, and they leaned against the wall, panting. Xiahou Lian held Shen Jue’s shoulder and sighed. “Young Master, you’re a fucking martial arts prodigy!”
“It’s you who’s too stupid.”
“Just now, you said that my saber skills and what I said were different. What did you mean?”
Shen Jue gazed at him, and his expression was a little complicated as he said, “Your saber doesn’t have killing intent.”
Xiahou Lian was stunned, and he recalled the words of that old spy in Xie Manor——“You have a Bodhi saber, but you don’t have the intent to kill.” At the time, he hadn’t been convinced yet, but now that he recalled it, he couldn’t help but admit it.
He hated killing. It wasn’t because of cowardice, and it also wasn’t because his skills weren’t perfect; he just hated it. Since his plaque had been hung up until now, he had made two business trips in total. He was the Garuda’s son, so he was different from the other children who had just debuted. Every assassination, he had a senior to lead him, lest he died. However, he had messed up every time. Either it was because the planned blow hadn’t been in position, or it was because he had revealed a clue during the operation and had been discovered by the other side. In short, every time, it had been a senior who had helped him take off the human head.
The fact that the Garuda’s son was a piece of mud that couldn’t stick onto a wall had already spread all over Garan. In the other assassins’ eyes, it was a matter of time before he died on the killing field. In the saber graveyard in the valley behind Garan’s ancient temple, a new tombstone would be put up very soon, and on it would be carved Xiahou Lian’s name.
However, he couldn’t expose the reality that he was a good-for-nothing in front of Shen Jue, and even though his reputation was groundless, it was still a reputation. He pretended to disagree and said, “It’s not like I’m killing right now. I’m just drilling you, so there’s naturally no killing intent.” He bragged shamelessly, “You don’t know my abilities, the name of Jingtie Saber has already spread all over the martial arts world. In a few more years, it’ll exceed my mother’s Hengbo.”
Of course Shen Jue didn’t believe him. Xiahou Lian had a record; when they had been in Xie Manor, he would brag about his high status. Everyone else would scramble to carry his shoes, but the outcome was that he still hadn’t been able to escape a severe whipping.
But, he good-heartedly didn’t expose him and only said, “Stop talking, continue teaching.”
Xiahou Lian was pleased with himself and said, “There are many types of Garan saber techniques, there’s single-wielded sabers, dual-wielded sabers, long sabers, short sabers, curved sabers, and they’re also divided into assassination techniques and chopping techniques. Assassination techniques go down the path of sinisterness, cruelty, and viciousness. It’s suited for one-on-one, but if the opponent is a group of people, there’s no way out. I heard that Garan’s former abbot was a master of assassination techniques, and as long as he wanted someone’s head, no one could keep it. But in the end, he died in an ambush of ten people. He killed the leader, but he was cut into meat pulp by the remaining nine people.”
“Can chopping techniques be used for one-on-many?”
“Mn.” Xiahou Lian nodded. “Chopping techniques absorbed a lot of saber techniques from border armies, so using this on the battlefield is no problem. However, we assassins don’t need to go on the battlefield, so a lot of people don’t learn this set.”
“Which ones do you know?”
Xiahou Lian’s face was a little red from shyness, as it rarely was. “Originally, I wanted to learn from my mother. My mother uses single-wielded sabers and dual-wielded sabers, and she’s an all-round master at assassination techniques and chopping techniques. But this thing indeed needs talent, and I’m just a little worse than my mother. I’m almost done learning the single-wielded straight saber, and I’ve learned half of dual-wielded sabers. My instructor only knows assassination techniques, so I also only know assassination…”
The level of this Xiahou Lian as a master was somewhat low, but there was nothing he could do about it. Shen Jue said, “I want to learn what you’re best at.”
Clouds dispersed and gathered, wind came and rain went. Leaves gradually became denser, and the chirping of cicadas filled the small courtyard. Every night, Shen Jue stepped on the moonlight that was like water, accompanied by the entire garden of cicada chirps as he sliced with his saber. His eyes were terribly quiet. The wind lifted his robes, yet no waves rose in his eyes, and the wooden saber in his hands was also as immobile as a mountain. Slowly, the wind seemed to become distant, the sounds of cicadas seemed to stop, and the moonlight retreated. In the silent night, all that was left was a simple wooden saber.
Shen Jue hid his saber under his underarm and then drew the saber, lifting it up. The point of the saber obliquely sliced out an upward arc.
Garan Saber Technique • Swallow Slant.
He had already practiced this move over a thousand times. The angle of Swallow Slant was cunning and vicious, and going upward could lacerate an enemy’s throat, while going downward could disembowel them. As long as he was fast enough, blood would splash out in only an instant.
With a “thud,” the wooden saber hit Xiahou Lian’s body, and he let out a short wail, rolling on the ground.
He had already been hit for the seventh time tonight.
Shen Jue was practically a lunatic. Ever since he had passed on his saber techniques to him, he would practice for four hours every night, stopped by neither wind nor rain and unmoved by thunder. It couldn’t be helped if he practiced by himself, but he had to drag Xiahou Lian into sparring with him. In a daze, Xiahou Lian felt that he had returned to the past days of accompanying him in studying in Xie Manor. In the library, there was a small light, and the wind rustled throughout the courtyard. Shen Jue was holding a scroll and looking at it intently, and he was below, drowsy. It was just that in the past, he had been able to catch moths and centipedes and pull out small flowers and grass to play, yet now, he had to jump left and right to dodge Shen Jue’s endless attacks.
Xiahou Lian was so tired his head was covered in sweat, and he laid on the ground, unwilling to get up.
Shen Jue kicked him lightly a few times and said with a straight face, “If you don’t get up, I’ll hit you.”
“Dage, aren’t you tired!” Xiahou Lian was impressed.
“I am,” Shen Jue used the wooden dagger to poke his stomach, “but I still have to practice. I’m not like you. You have children’s skills 1 and flexible muscles and bones, so you got twice the results with half the effort when practicing. My muscles and bones are already stiff, so I can only get half the results with double the effort.”
Xiahou Lian made up his mind not to get up, and he laid stiffly on the ground like a dead fish.
Shen Jue was helpless, and he was just about to think of some idea to get this unreliable person up when his head was abruptly hit.
“I want to play too! I want to play too!” Consort Gao had emerged from somewhere at some point, and she clapped as she shouted.
“Right, right, you go practice with her, lunatics have more energy.” Xiahou Lian got up in defeat and ran for dear life in the direction of the room, afraid Shen Jue would catch up from behind.
Shen Jue kept feeling that his last words weren’t only scolding Noble Consort Gao.
He turned his head to look at Consort Gao. As usual, she was wearing a headful of messy chicken feathers, and her jacket and skirt were unpresentable and dirty. Her entire person was like a feather duster that could move. Shen Jue sighed and showed his starting pose, slashing horizontally with his wooden saber. She didn’t have time to dodge, and half of the chicken feathers on her head were hit off, drifting down and falling all over the ground.
Shen Jue looked at the ground covered in chicken feathers and suddenly felt uninterested. “Never mind, no more practicing…”
“Brat! You dare to hit my general plumes off! See how this big general will deal with you!” Consort Gao glared angrily and raised her hand, breaking off a tree branch. She aimed for and struck Shen Jue’s head.
Shen Jue was muddled at once from being struck, yet Consort Gao’s branch had already landed like a hurricane, like raindrops in summer, falling densely and heavily on the water surface. Shen Jue hurriedly raised his wooden saber to block, but in his bewilderment, he unexpectedly could only block two or three, and the remaining moves all landed on his body, causing searing pain.
This lunatic, how was she so fast!
If Xiahou Lian was said to be the gentle breeze and fine drizzle in a spring forest, then Consort Gao was the heavens going crazy and pouring a basin of water used to wash feet on his head!
Shen Jue finally abandoned his reputation and covered his head, fleeing.
The next morning when Xiahou Lian got up, he discovered the medicine for metal-inflicted wounds on the table with its lid open. Shen Jue was lying on the bed-stove, still sound asleep, his pale face with an added serenity that it usually never had.
He must’ve been extremely exhausted, otherwise he wouldn’t have forgotten to put the medicine back to its original spot. Shen Jue was infuriatingly finicky; when he took off his clothes and didn’t hang them on the clothes hanger, he would be blamed by him. Xiahou Lian didn’t know how many times he had internally criticized him as Missy Shen.
Shen Jue just had this temperament. He treated people strictly and disciplined himself even more strictly. When he got angry, he practically didn’t even recognize himself, and he wouldn’t give up until he tormented himself so that a layer of skin was peeled off. Xiahou Lian didn’t know how he had, with such a libertine temperament he had been used to since childhood, gotten along with Shen Jue, and he himself even felt that it was miraculous.
Xiahou Lian tidied himself and went to the imperial kitchen to get everyone’s breakfast. He had just stepped into Shunzhen Gate when he saw an old eunuch whose face was covered in wrinkles standing by the gate pier and looking at him with a smile.
“Si Xi, are you well now? It looks like your body’s gotten quite a bit sturdier. Your godfather has been very busy these days and hasn’t had free time. I finally finished doing everything, and I rushed here to see you, don’t take offense!” He walked over carrying a box of food and said, “This was sent over by your goduncle-in-law from North Zhili 2, thin fried pasty from Ganyue House 3, crunchy sesame candy, and big square cake 4. I don’t like to eat sweets, but you’re a child, so I’ll give it to you to satisfy your cravings.”
It turned out to be Si Xi’s godfather. Xiahou Lian’s heart had been a little agitated as just then, he had been pondering what to call him, but this guy had happened to identify himself, helping him avoid giving something away. He hastily saluted with clasped hands and said smoothly, “Thank you for your concern, Godfather. I walked a circle around the underworld, and Yama said that he still wants me to keep my life so I can be filial to my godfather, so he put me back. Please hurry inside, you’ll catch a cold if you stand in the wind.”
The old eunuch laughed and waved his hands. “No, early this morning, foreigners presented a luxurious Ferghana horse, so I have to go back in a bit to look at those bastards brush that ancestor’s hair.” Pausing meaningfully, the old eunuch drooped his eyelids as he looked at Xiahou Lian. “The emperor got a good horse and is in a mood to enjoy it, so he’s going to go for a visit to the hunting grounds on the fifteenth. It so happens that my subordinate who looks after the imperial stables, Cao Lang, is sick. He looks a little bad, and he won’t be able to get better easily. Do you want to come take a shift?”
As he said this, he smiled again. “Haven’t you always wanted to leave Fourth Qianxi Premises? For this hunt, nobles will be there, so if you show your face, you might be able to get a good future.”
As a fake eunuch, what would Xiahou Lian go and join in for. He was just about to reject him when Shen Jue’s voice sounded from behind. “Eunuch Yan, Si Xi has just recovered from a serious illness and his vigor is still poor, so if he rashly runs to serve, I’m afraid he’ll bump into nobles. Why don’t you let me do it for him, I wonder what you think?”
Eunuch Yan looked Xiahou Lian up and down with a few glances and said, “It looks to me that Si Xi’s vigor isn’t bad, and he even seems to be a lot heartier.”
Shen Jue’s hinting eyes swept over him, and Xiahou Lian hastily put a hand over his heart and made an “ow.” “Godfather, you don’t know that this is called ‘falsely strong.’ Although I don’t have a serious illness, I have a constant minor illness. Even now, my heart has an illness of pain. I don’t have the good fortune of going to serve. Why not just let Eunuch Shen go? He’s my good brother, so him going is the same.”
Eunuch Yan sighed and said, “All right, if you don’t have thoughts of advancing, then it can’t be helped. Shen Jue, come here tomorrow and I’ll take you to get familiar with the imperial stables.”
Shen Jue meekly responded with a “yes.”
Eunuch Yan left, flinging his sleeves. Xiahou Lian looked at his stooped back and said suspiciously, “He never comes without a reason. He didn’t come when I was sick, yet he came after I got well. I’m afraid this guy has ill intentions.”
“No matter, as long as I can see Wei De at the hunt, it’s a good thing.” Shen Jue brushed off the nonexistent dust on his sleeves and strided into the room.
Xiahou Lian was horrified. This person who wanted to die didn’t want to assassinate Wei De during the hunt, did he?!